6/19/03 9:00:00 AM
To: National Desk, Science and Medical reporters
Contact: Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project,
MONTPELIER, Vt., June 19 /U.S. Newswire/ -- One of every 20 cans
of "white," or albacore, tuna should be recalled as unsafe for human
consumption, according to independent testing conducted for the
Mercury Policy Project, a public interest group.
On average, the levels of mercury in the white tuna were
considerably higher than the industry and government claims from
outdated FDA tests, said Michael Bender, director of the project.
"Our tests confirm what FDA has known for over a decade; white
tuna has higher mercury levels," said Bender. "Yet because FDA
halted testing of canned tuna for mercury in 1998 to save money and
because industry keeps its results secret, parents are unknowingly
exposing their children to mercury."
Methylmercury -- the organic form mercury assumes in fish -- is a
potent neurotoxin that poses the greatest risk to the developing
fetus, infants, and young children. Data from the CDC indicates that
one in 12 women of childbearing age have unsafe mercury levels,
translating to over 300,000 babies born at risk each year.
"Our sample size was admittedly small," said Bender. "We chose 60
cans of tuna randomly off grocery shelves, had them tested by the
New Age/Landmark Laboratory, Inc. and then had a portion retested by
The National Food Laboratory, Inc. -- a lab used by the tuna
industry -- so there is no reason to be believe that these results
are not reflective of what millions of Americans consume."
Canned tuna is consumed in 90 percent of American households and
accounts for around 20 percent of US seafood consumption. Children
eat more than twice as much tuna as any other fish, and canned tuna
is the most frequently consumed fish among women of child bearing
age. Albacore accounts for about one-third of all canned tuna sold
in the U.S. and our independent testing found that mercury levels in
white canned tuna averaged over 0.5 ppm.
"FDA's own food safety committee recommended last year that the
Agency warn pregnant women about canned tuna, but the Agency has
failed to act because of undue influence by industry," said Bender.
"FDA should stop protecting the fishing industry's profits and start
protecting children from mercury."
How much fish a person can eat before exceeding the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) "virtual safe limit,"
called a reference dose (RfD), depends on body weight and mercury
content of the fish. For example:
-- A 22 pound toddler eating only 2 ounces of tuna per week with
a 0.5 ppm mercury concentration would have an intake over 4 times
the EPA's RfD.
-- If a woman with a typical weight of 132 lbs eats 12 ounces of
canned tuna per week (the limit advised by FDA) with a 0.5 ppm
mercury concentration, she will exceed by 4 times the EPA's RfD.
-- An 88 pound child consuming one 6 ounce can of tuna with a 0.5
ppm mercury concentration weekly would be exposed to 3 times the
EPA's RfD standard.
These concerns, however, pale in comparison to the risks of
prenatal mercury exposure; in utero fetuses are at risk of
neurological impairment from methylmercury passing through the
placental barrier. Nevertheless, at their food safety committee
meeting last year, FDA scientists admitted that as many as 50
percent of women in the U.S. have little or no knowledge of mercury
exposure risks identified with eating fish.
Cans of Starkist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea tuna and
others were collected from Safeway, Shaw's, and other supermarkets
around the country and sent to New Age/Landmark Laboratory in Benton
Harbor, Mich. Then 20 percent of the white tuna samples were
retested by The National Food Laboratory Inc. in Dublin, Calif. Over
six percent of the white tuna samples contained mercury at or above
FDA's outdated and unprotective action level for mercury of 1
part-per-million. On average, the 48 white tuna samples proved to
have levels of mercury over four-times higher than the 12 light tuna
According to a tuna industry spokesperson, "extensive research"
found that four percent of the tuna tested exceeded the FDA's action
level of 1 ppm. A $1 billion per year industry, the U.S. tuna
industry estimates that warning women about the risks of mercury
exposure in canned tuna could lead to over a 20 percent drop in
sales. After meeting with the tuna industry, FDA dropped canned tuna
from its consumer advisory.
In the face of such FDA inaction, states and others are
attempting to fill the void by embracing approaches that are more
restrictive than the FDA's action level. Eleven states have issued
advisories warning pregnant women, nursing mothers, women of
childbearing age and children to limit canned tuna consumption.
Several states also warn that the "white" canned tuna contains
higher mercury levels than "light" tuna.
Most mercury pollution comes from the burning of fossil fuels in
the coal-fired power plants, disposal of mercury-containing products
in incinerators and landfills, mineral mining operations, industrial
uses like chlorine production, and releases from dental offices.
Mercury levels in the environment have increased 3-5 fold in the
past century as a result of human activities and are reaching
threshold levels that threaten human health and environmental
security, as well as the future of the global fishing industry.
Since 1996, fish has surpassed beef and poultry as the main common
source of protein for billions of people in the world.
In February 2003, the UN Governing Council found that there was
sufficient adverse impacts of global mercury pollution to warrant
For more information and to review the report:
/© 2003 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/